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Interview: Alison Bell

February 12th, 2007 (12:51 pm)
impressed

Current Mood: impressed
Current Song: All Will Be Forgotten by Holly Brook

After years of journalistic endeavors and non-fiction works, Alison Bell has written her first piece of juvenile fiction. Zibby Payne and the Terrible, Wonderful Tomboy Experiment is totally, absolutely adorable. It is also the first in a series. The book follows Zibby's transition from elementary school to middle school, and it is a great bridge between easy chapter books and independent novels for young readers. I read Zibby #1 from cover to cover in one sitting, then interviewed Alison shortly thereafter.

Tell readers about your daughter, the inspiration for Zibby, and her continued involvement in the editing process.

My daughter, now almost 13, has always been a live wire. She walked early, read early, and had an all-around big personality. In second grade, she declared herself a tomboy. She shopped in the boys' department, only played with boys, and tried to talk me into getting an above-the-ears haircut.

She was also an avid reader and had gone through most all the books for girls her age.

So, I decided, well, maybe I can write a book for her. Thus five years ago, I sat down and wrote the first draft of a spunky, sassy tomboy.

Originally my protagonist, Zibby Payne, was 8 or 9 years old, but my publisher wanted her older. So I had the luxury of actually writing a character who was 11 years old when my own daughter was 11. This was helpful because I was essentially living with a real-life version of my fictional character.

Zibby Payne & the Wonderful, Terrible Tomboy Experiment was your first published novel. Was it also your first completed novel, or had you previously worked on other manuscripts or shopped other stories around?

Yes, it is my first completed novel. I don't know why it took me so long to complete a work of fiction. I had always wanted to be a fiction writer, and did write short stories in my teens and 20s. But works never got past the rough draft stage. I guess finally, I was mentally ready to stick with a piece of fiction and see it to completion.

Your second novel, Zibby Payne & The Drama Trauma, hit stores in April. How many books do you plan on having in the series?

I have a contract for up to five, depending on how well the first two do. I am hoping for many adventures for Zibby and can see writing dozens, well... that would be my dream.

The cover for Experiment is perfect. (Gentle readers, I don't want to spoil you for the event, so let's just say that Zibby wears the outfit for something important.) How involved were you in the process of designing the cover?

Actually I did not have a say at all in the design of the first cover. To be honest, the cover, which features one green high top, was chosen by the publisher, and then I had to rewrite the ending of the book so the shoe would literally fit! But I think that specific green shoe made it a better ending, so it all worked out.

The designer did a great job on that first cover and on the second as well. I did have some input on the second one in terms of keeping up the theme of the first cover. But I would never attempt to design a cover myself as I can barely draw stick people!

What advice do you have for young girls, like Zibby, who aren't "girly girls," but aren't quite tomboys either, and are clashing with cliques?

This is a hard question as the years 9 - 13 are socially challenging, unless you're one of those blessed few who seem to sail through. Suddenly, it seems like everyone is in a crowd, and you're standing outside, unable to wedge your shoulder into the group!

I would of course encourage girls to be true to themselves, but also, try to be flexible and kind toward girls who are not like them. The girls you feel are so different probably aren't as much as you think. If you can just hold on for a few years, once you hit your mid to late teens, you'll discover, as clique walls crumble, that you have more in common with some of the girls you never dreamed you would, whether you're a tomboy, girly girl, or in-between!

As an American author, how did you discover the Canadian-based Lobster Press?

A friend of mine, another former editor at Teen, which I am, was asked to write a book for Lobster Book on fashion trends for teens. She was too busy to take the assignment, so she gave me Lobster's name and number, and I contacted them. I wrote that book, Fearless Fashion, along with a second book in the series, called Let's Party! -- a party planning guide for girls. After I wrote Fearless Fashion, I sent Lobster Press my Zibby manuscript. I had been sending it around for a few years to agents and publishers, but was not able to find representation or a publisher.

At first, Lobster passed on Zibby. But then a new editor came on-board, and Lobster made an offer to buy it -- with changes. I did not mind making the changes because I was happy to finally find a publisher and an editor who cared for Zibby and had a vision for her.

As a mother, freelance journalist, and published novelist, you wear many hats. Which non-fiction piece has struck the closest to home?

I have written hundreds of articles throughout the years, the majority of them "service" features, how to pieces -- how to be happier, be a good parent, strengthen your marriage, etc. These are all fine and needed for popular culture, but they are quite nuts and bolts pieces -- not show pieces as a writer. In looking back, the articles I wrote years ago for Teen and Sassy probably have been the most meaningful because I was able to write on important topics to teens -- from eating disorders to perfectionism to drug abuse, etc. These issues resonate even more as I now have two of my own teenagers.

What project are you working on now?

I am putting the finishing touches on the first book of my newest series, Hank's Pranks, based on my 6-year-old son.

You hold a degree in Comparative Literature, so I know you will have fun with the question I pose to everyone: What are your 10 favorite novels of all time?

Well, it is near impossible to narrow down all the wonderful books out there to a top 10 list, but I will try! This list goes something like this:

The Ghost Writer, Philip Roth
Look Homeward Angel, Thomas Wolfe
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
White Noise, Don DeLillo
The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
Things We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carter
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

Read my reviews of the Zibby Payne books.

Visit Alison Bell's website.